TRIED & TESTED: THE BIG CHILL

The cuppa is our national solace. Could ready-made iced tea replace it in summer? Our panel tries six brands
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The Independent Culture
IF THE makers of iced tea have their way, the British passion for a nice cuppa is set to take on a new lease of life. Not content with leaving tea hot and in a cup, those with an eye on the lucrative soft- drinks market see canned and bottled iced teas as serious contenders in the drive to knock old favourites like cola and lemonade off their pedestals. And with a rapidly growing range of iced tea brands becoming available in the UK, there's little reason to doubt them.

Iced teas are already highly popular in the US and Japan. In the southern states of the US in particular, refreshing iced tea has long been a widely gulped thirst-quenching traditional brew. No such history in the UK, but that hasn't held back the iced tea invasion. The Snapple brand was one of the first to hit our shores in 1993. A combination of clever marketing - which the reports of Madonna being a Snapple devotee couldn't have done much harm - and tuning into the current trend for "natural" products, meant Snapple got off to a good start. Not wanting to miss out on the action, big boys Pepsi, Britvic and Brook Bond joined together to launch Liptonice in the UK early last year. This year, the Vermont-based Mad River Mountain Iced Teas had their UK debut and more beverage companies are said to be eyeing the market.

Our panel tried three lemon-flavoured iced teas, two peach-flavoured brands and one "original" brand without any extra flavourings.

THE PANEL

Giles Hilton, tea buyer and taster for the Whittard of Chelsea nationwide chain of tea and coffee shops; Natasha Smith, co-manager at the Egon Ronay- listed "Tea Time" caf in Clapham, London, where "home-made" iced tea is served in the summer; Helen Darmody, an ice tea aficionado who often makes her own; Chris Holmes, a novice tasting iced tea for the first time.

THE TEST

Our panel rated the teas for look, smell and, most important of all, taste. They were asked to keep in mind which of the teas they would choose as a refreshing drink on a warm summer day.

***SNAPPLE PEACH-FLAVOURED ICED TEA

79p for 473ml bottle

Made from "real brewed tea" with added "natural peach flavour", proclaims this Snapple label, going on to boast that the tea is "Made From The Best Stuff On Earth". Not all of our panel were convinced. There was no denying the evidence of peaches in the flavour but Natasha and Chris thought it a bit too much. "This has a strong peachy taste which is a bit cloying. I couldn't drink too much of it," complained Natasha. "The first sip made me think I wouldn't like this and after a couple more, I still wasn't convinced. Reminds me a bit of the syrup you get with canned peaches," said Chris.

Giles and Helen, however, came to quite the opposite concLUsion. "This tastes mainly of peach juice, although a slight tea taste is there. It's an appealing taste and one I could get to like quite a lot," concluded Giles.

*MUJI 'OOLONG' TEA

95p for 245g can

Muji, the stylish, "no frills" Japanese store, has been trying to introduce British customers to the joys of cold Japanese tea for some time. The Muji brand gave rise to the strongest reactions from the panel. This is iced tea as it is often drunk in Japan - straight chilled tea with no added flavourings. Giles Hilton thought that this was the major drawback: "Good tea colour and a very recognisable tea taste, but I don't think this is what people are looking for in an iced tea. I think people want a bit of extra flavour. It is a correctly made tea, which is what I would expect from the Japanese, but in practice it simply isn't a success," he said. Chris agreed: "This just tastes of plain, watered-down tea. I'd be disappointed if I bought a can thinking it was going to be a refreshing new drink." Natasha didn't think the Muji was unpleasant, but she agreed with Chris that it wasn't the type of drink she would choose to buy. Helen summed up the general feeling: "This just tastes like tea when you've left it to go cold."

****SNAPPLE LEMON-FLAVOURED ICED TEA

79p for 473ml bottle

This lemon tea was the overall favourite of three out of four of the panel members. Those who picked it as their favourite had different reasons for choosing it. Giles liked it for its combination of good tea and lemon flavours. "I like the fact that the lemon flavour isn't too overpowering and you can still taste the tea. A very pleasant drink with just the right balance of different tastes," he enthused. The less refined palates of Helen and Chris couldn't spot much of a tea taste, but they liked it all the same. "This is more like a refreshing lemon drink than something made with tea, but whatever is in it, it tastes pretty good," said Helen. Chris's only negative comment was that he thought the cloudy, dark colour was a bit off-putting. Natasha's was the only dissenting voice. "This hasn't got quite enough flavour of either lemon or of tea for me and it seems rather watery," she complained.

***LIPTONICE SPARKLING ICED LEMON TEA DRINK

36p for 330ml can

Liptonice is lemon tea with a fizz. Of all the teas our panel tried, this was the one that had the most familiar soft-drink look and taste. "This just tastes like a fizzy, sugary drink. I wouldn't know there was tea in it' said Chris. Natasha and Helen both enjoyed it, "Very refreshing taste and the fact it's fizzy makes it more interesting," Natasha said. Helen liked the fact that the fizz and the lemon taste dominated the tea flavour. Giles's trained taste buds were more sceptical: "You can taste the tea but I'm not sure that does much for it. They've tried hard to keep the tea flavour but the fizz combination doesn't work very well with it. A rather muddled assortment of flavours." The general view was that Liptonice is a pleasant enough choice if you prefer your soft drinks with a fizz and want something a bit different.

***MAD RIVER MOUNTAIN GINGER AND PEACH FLAVOUR ICED TEA

99p for 473ml bottle

The Mad River Mountain range of iced teas is already popular in the States but has only recently become available in the UK, so it has some lost ground to make up with its similar-looking rival range, Snapple. Our panel tried the rather unusual ginger and peach combination and had mixed opinions. "A bit like flat ginger beer and I can't taste any tea at all. The ginger and peach combination doesn't work very well," said Giles. Natasha agreed that the ginger taste was a bit odd. Chris and Helen were more positive. "I prefer this to the Snapple peachy one because the ginger stops the peach from being too overpowering," said Helen. Chris thought the taste was one you'd need to get used to but that it wouldn't take long.

**LIFT INSTANT LEMON TEA

£1.17 for 200g jar/approx 20 servings

Not as "instant" as the other brands in that you make it up yourself, but it's still very quick to prepare - you just add chilled water to a couple of teaspoons of powder and give it a stir. The panel's reactions to Lift were generally unenthusiastic. Giles was scathing: "It doesn't look very pleasant and the powder takes a while to dissolve properly. It smells lemon-ish but the taste is very weak and a tea flavour is barely detectable. Very uninteresting," he said. Natasha and Chris weren't over- impressed either: "You need more than it says on the label to get a reasonable lemon taste but when you get the taste, it's very artificial - it reminds me a bit of 'Refresher' sweets," said Natasha. Helen was a touch more keen: "I didn't think I'd like this after finding out you mix it from a powder, but it was surprisingly nice."

STOCKISTS

The Liptonice, Lift and Snapples brands are all widely available at supermarkets and at smaller grocer's shops and newsagents; the Mad River brand is available at selected delicatessens, including Cullens; the Muji brand available from Muji Japanese stores in London and Glasgow.

NEXT WEEK: GARLIC PRESSES

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